The first rule of Tank Club is never talk about Tank Club. But before a tank can be implemented, it’s important in some cases to make sure that those who may be surprised and dismayed by the development are prepared for it.
The Eagles obviously failed to let enough people know, internally or externally, that Week 17 would be about something other than winning the game. And they’re now dealing with the fallout.
Yes, Eagles coach Doug Pederson suggested in the days preceding the game that backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld would get some playing time. But that message wasn’t conveyed nearly strongly enough to overcome the perception that the Eagles — like other teams that could have played to lose and in turn to enhance draft position in Week 17 — were in it to win it.
“We’ve got to have a no-hat rule this week,” Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz told reporters on Tuesday of last week. “We can’t let opponents put division win hats on at [Lincoln Financial Field]. There’s a lot of pride in that, and all our focus has to be to accomplishing that this week.”
That was regarded as a vow when it was said. Maybe it was an aspiration, or a plea. Maybe Schwartz knew which way the wind was blowing, and that he was hoping there would be a change in the direction of the breeze.
Regardless, there was no clear reason to think that the Eagles would try to lose the game. The Vikings could have (should have) laid down against the Lions. The 49ers could have laid down against the Seahawks (the 49ers lost anyway). Although it makes sense to take a loss in a meaningless game in order to get a higher draft pick, teams usually don’t do it.
They don’t do it for the very reasons why the Eagles shouldn’t have done it. Unless everyone realizes what’s happening, it sets the stage for dissension and dysfunction.
So what should the Eagles have done? They should have simply started Sudfeld — and they should have announced during the week that Sudfeld would get the gig. There would have been grumbling and complaints and other problems, but everyone would have known from the get go that the Eagles wouldn’t be going for the victory.
Why is that important? Beyond the internal damage done by the unexpected benching on Jalen Hurts, people who legally wagered their hard-earned money on the Eagles to win or to cover or who placed prop bets based on the performance of Jalen Hurt, etc., are upset about what happened. While the outcry hasn’t reached the kind of critical mass that would catch the attention of members of Congress (then again, they have other whales to fry), it’s an example of the kind of thing that could become an issue for the league as legalized gambling continues to spread.
Inside information is a very real dynamic in sports. Despite efforts to level the playing field, it exists. Given that the Eagles opened as slight favorites and that the line moved in Washington’s direction before closing with Washington as a 6.5-point favorite, some knew what was going on.
But not nearly enough. And that will haunt the Eagles throughout the 2021 offseason, and likely beyond.